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The Economic Importance of National Monuments to Local Communities

Updated, July 2014

Background | Findings | Fact Sheets | Additional Resources

Headwaters Economics recently updated research that assesses the economic performance of local communities adjacent to national monuments in the West.

These updated results—like the earlier study—found that the local economies surrounding all 17 of the national monuments studied expanded following the creation of a new national monument.

The updated research includes both new summary and a fresh interactive map.

Click here for a study area map of the national monuments. There is also a digest of permitted uses for each national monument.


In 2011 and again this year, Headwaters Economics analyzed the economies surrounding the 17 national monuments in the eleven western continental states that are larger than 10,000 acres and were created between 1982 and 2011. This sample avoids smaller monuments with little potential to have an impact on local economies, and allowed us to analyze economic indicators before and after designation using reliable measures of economic performance.

The new 2014 analysis examines more recent performance, including recovery from the great recession.

While the results showing continued growth in nearby communities does not demonstrate a cause-and-effect relationship, the findings do show that national monuments are consistent with economic growth in adjacent local communities.

The updated analysis again found no evidence that designating these national monuments prevented continued economic growth, and trends in important economic indicators—population, employment, personal income, and per-capita income—increased in each of the regions surrounding the national monuments.


Across the board, trends in important economic indicators either continued or improved in each of the regions surrounding the 17 national monuments studied. Looking at per capita income, a widely accepted measure of prosperity, the data show that this measurement increased for the studied counties adjacent to every national monument in the years following establishment. This rise in personal wealth is significant, particularly in rural areas where average earnings per job are often declining.

The new analysis again compared the economic performance of national monument counties to similar benchmark counties—either to the Metro or Non-Metro portion of the state where the monument is located. In most instances, the growth in the four key economic indicators was the same or stronger in national monument counties than in comparable peer counties, though this varies by monument. Looking at these four indicators for all 17 national monument regions, 13 grew at similar or faster rates compared to the benchmark and four were slower.

The latest review shows again that all of the regional economies adjacent to the studied national monuments experienced growth following a monument’s designation. Nearby national monuments help communities to diversify economically while increasing quality of life and recreational opportunities that assist communities to become more attractive for new residents, businesses, and investment.

The study found no evidence that designating these national monuments prevented continued economic growth. Instead, trends in key economic indicators such as population, employment, personal income, and per capita income either continued or improved in each of the regions surrounding the national monuments.

Fact Sheets

These two-page summaries, from the 2011 study, offer specific economic details for each national monument studied.

Additional Resources

Headwaters Economics has developed a number of tools, many of them described below, to better understand local economies and the role of protected public lands.

  • Case Studies: we profiled Fort Ord in Monterey County, California and Organ Mountains in Dona Ana County, New Mexico shortly before their designation as monuments.
  • Socioeconomic Profiles: the Economic Profile System is a free, easy-to-use software that provides detailed reports at the community, county, or state level.
  • National Parks: background and interactive showing the effect of visitation, spending, and other economic values for communities near every national park unit.
  • Protected Lands and Income: study and interactive showing the amount of per capita income explained by protected federal lands for each county in the non-metropolitan western U.S.
  • Economists on Public Lands: more than 100 economists urged President Obama to “create jobs and support businesses by investing in our public lands infrastructure and establishing new protected areas such as parks, wilderness, and monuments.”
  • West Is Best: this report finds that the West’s popular national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and other public lands offer its growing high-tech and services industries a competitive advantage.
  • Library on the Value of Public Lands: contains numerous reports, case studies, bibliographies, tools, and research concerning the value of western protected public lands.
For more information, contact:
Chris Mehl at 406.570.8937 or [email]